Sir Frank Williams, the owner and long-time Team Principal of Williams Racing, has passed away. He was seventy-nine.
He created his first team back in the late 1960s under the guise of Frank Williams Racing Cars and it began the dream of Sir Frank becoming a team owner in Formula 1. However, the first time was not the charm for him, and he was left under a cloud after Walter Wolf bought into the team and pushed him to the side.
However, the dream was not over, and the late 1970s, alongside the equally important Patrick Head, he created a team that remains to this day an integral part of Formula 1, even if the Williams F1 Team is no longer under the management of the Williams family.
However, the team that he did create is one that has taken nine Constructors’ Championships, seven Drivers’ Championships, one hundred and fourteen race victories and three-hundred and thirteen podiums.
Sir Frank was much loved within the paddock, and he did the majority of his time there confined to a wheelchair after a car crash in March 1986 left him paralysed. Despite a long absence from the pit lane, he did not let up and was still a major player in Formula 1.
Patrick Neve was Williams’ first driver in 1977, with the Belgian debuting the team in that years’ Spanish Grand Prix. However, in the eleven events he entered, he failed to qualify for three of them and failed to score a point in any of the others.
He was replaced by Alan Jones for 1978, and the teams’ first points came in the South African Grand Prix, where the Australian finished fourth. He could only score points on two further occasions, but Jones brought the team their first podium finish as he finished second in the United States Grand Prix.
The team’s first victory came in the 1979 British Grand Prix with Clay Regazzoni behind the wheel, while Jones took a further four victories as Williams finished second in the Constructors’ Championship.
The first World Championships came in 1980, with Jones taking five victories on his way to the Drivers’ title, with a further victory for Carlos Reutemann ensuring Williams also took the Constructors’ crown at the same time.
Further Constructors’ Championships came in 1981, 1986, 1987, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996 and 1997, while Keke Rosberg (1982), Nelson Piquet (1987), Nigel Mansell (1992), Alain Prost (1993), Damon Hill (1996) and Jacques Villeneuve (1997) won the Drivers’ Championship.
After Regazzoni, Jones and Reutemann, Rosberg, Mansell, Piquet, Thierry Boutsen, Riccardo Patrese, Prost, Hill, David Coulthard, Villeneuve, Heinz-Harald Frentzen, Ralf Schumacher, Juan Pablo Montoya and Pastor Maldonado all took Williams to the top step of the podium.
With manufacturer presence making it more and more difficult for independent teams to survive in Formula 1, Williams’ place at the front of the grid became more and more difficult, with Maldonado’s triumph in the 2012 Spanish Grand Prix the last time the team took a race victory.
The likes of Felipe Massa, Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll brought the team podiums, but towards the end of the 2010s, the team were struggling both on a financial and performance level, and Sir Frank stepped further and further back from the day-to-day running of the team in favour of daughter Claire.
Eventually the need for investment overcame the desire to remain a family team on the grid, and after forty-three-years, the Williams family sold the team in August 2020 to US Investment group Dorilton Capital. After a legendary career, Sir Frank was no longer a presence on the grid, and Formula 1 was a poorer place for it.
Sir Frank Williams created one of, if not the best independent team on the Formula 1 grid, and he went through a lot of pain keeping the team on the grid. However, he can be remembered as someone who never gave up, who gave opportunities, who triumphed against the odds.
Despite their lengthy lean spell, Williams are still fourth in the all-time list of Grand Prix Victories for a team, and the seven Drivers’ and nine Constructors’ Championships highlight just how successful they were. They also have a large fanbase around the globe, particularly when they became the underdogs.
On a personal level, I started to watch Formula 1 back in 1988 as a seven-year-old, and one of my earliest memories is watching Nigel Mansell charge to second in the British Grand Prix. After then, I always had a soft spot for the team, and even though I understand why it was important for the the Williams family to let go of the team, it was still a sad day for both myself and for Formula 1 as a whole.
Rest in peace Sir Frank. Williams, and Formula 1, will miss you immensely.